Oregon exports surged last year, with one industry leading the way

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Oregon exports surged last year, with one industry leading the way

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This is Oregon Insight, The Oregonian’s weekly look at the numbers behind the state’s economy. View past episodes here.

Oregon’s exports rose an astounding 19% last year, approaching $30 billion for the first time as the state emerged from a pandemic-fuelled recession.

According to federal trade records compiled by WISERTrade, this is the biggest annual jump in at least a decade. The value of the state’s exports rose nearly $4.7 billion.

“Export data from 2021 looks very good,” said Michael Meyers, an economist at Business Oregon, the state’s economic development agency.

Many businesses have thrived since the recession caused by the pandemic, but most of Oregon’s export growth has come from one industry: semiconductors.

The value of computer chips made in Oregon and sold overseas rose $2.8 billion last year, more than 60% of last year’s total export growth.

While federal trade data does not indicate specific exporters, Oregon is home to many major chipmakers, including Analog Devices, Microchip Technology, Qorvo, and Onsemi, all of which have reported significant increases in sales in 2021.

The biggest player, of course, is Intel, Oregon’s largest corporate employer. The company designs and manufactures its most advanced semiconductors in Hillsborough. Last year, the State of Oregon significantly increased its exports to Ireland, Israel and Malaysia, all countries where Intel has major operations.

Intel’s overall sales didn’t rise much last year — the company didn’t have enough manufacturing capacity to keep up with demand. But the share of sales of chips made in Oregon may have increased as it moved to more advanced 10nm processors.

Oregon also achieved a $680 million increase in industrial equipment exports last year. Meyers said these are basically semiconductor manufacturing tools.

The state has one major instrument manufacturer, Lam Research, and employs 4,000 people on the 52-acre Tualatin campus. The company’s sales are up 46% in its latest financial year, and Lam opened a new plant in nearby Sherwood last fall.

Other industries bounced back in 2020 after a difficult first year of the pandemic. Oregon-made semi-trailer exports jumped 38% last year, Meyers said. This is a Daimler-led category that builds Freightliner and Western Star trucks on Swan Island.

In 2021, aluminum waste and scrap exports are up 267%, according to Meyers. This likely reflects an increase in scrap production by Portland-based Schnitzer Steel Industries.

After a year of historic growth, Meyers said the outlook for trade in Oregon is a little hazy. While the impact of the pandemic is rapidly fading, the global economy is coping with rapid inflation – especially in the cost of oil – and the geopolitical upheaval caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

While Oregon has relatively little trade with any of these countries, Meyers said it’s impossible to predict the impact of the war and subsequent sanctions on the Russian economy.

“There is a lot to worry about this year,” he said. “There are different things to worry about.”

— Mike Rogoway | mrogoway@oregonian.com | Twitter: @rogoway |

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